North Union works toward understanding

ARMSTRONG – Making the human connections seems to be key to having a safe and supportive school.

North Union, now in its third year of a federal Safe and Supportive School grant, has seen results.

“What I’ve seen most is that students see teachers in another way and the teachers are also seeing students in a different light, more than just a teacher/student role,” said Becky Kinnander, coordinator of the program at North Union. “When this first began, parents, students and staff did these surveys regarding learning in schools, and one of the points that came through was students wanted their teachers to know and understand them, more than just what they see in a teacher-student relationship.”

Programs such as Youth Frontiers respect and wisdom retreats and the “Every 15 Minutes” program on drinking and driving deaths seemed to help open up those doors.

“There were lots of emotions that were brought to the surface with those programs,” Kinnander said. “Being able to display those, everyone could see that they do care about each other.”

Along with the programs, student organizations such as the “Supporting Players,” and the J-Term project “Student Voice” helped make these student support efforts into part of the regular routine at North Union.

“The two areas of focus are student-to-student relationships and student-to-teacher relationships,” Kinnander said. “The activities are to increase those relationships, and the success has been reflected in the data from the Department of Education.”

The student programs include honoring the Warrior of the Week and Warrior of the Month, along with the North Union Warrior’s Twitter feed. Recently, members of the Supporting Players and Student Voice represented North Union at a statewide conference in Des Moines with other schools that also receive the Safe and Supportive Schools grant. During that time, students presented information about their activities and a class-produced video, and learned what other schools were doing to improve school safety and student engagement.

“We are one of 20 school districts in Iowa that receive this grant, and we have steadily improved every year,” Kinnander said. “Right now, we are one of the highest in the state. One of the criteria for getting this grant was that we were one that showed the greatest opportunity for improvement based on the survey results … I’m really pleased with the whole things. It seems that students and staff are enjoying the opportunity and everyone has benefitted.”